Dog Food Options
Proper feeding and nutrition for our beloved four-legged friends has become a huge topic and cause for debate between well-intentioned pet owners all over the world. Raw feeding, BARF diet, prey model diet, prescription vet diets, kibble… the options are endless!
In my opinion this is a great thing! It illustrates the importance pets play in our lives and the intention of pet owners to do what is best for their animals. I don’t think there is one blanket answer that covers all pets and I don’t believe that it is acceptable to judge anyone on the nutritional choices that they are making for his/her pet, as long as the well-being of said pet is a top priority in making those decisions.
The major factors that determine what loving pet owners choose to feed usually are affordability, convenience, knowledge, and nutritional value. The problem is that there is so much conflicting information out there, and very little scientific proof demonstrating what the best choices really are. I’ve listed some sources at the end of this post, but assigning credibility is virtually impossible. There are conflicting opinions even between experts and licensed veterinarians. The only thing I can do is offer my amateur opinion and experience and hope that it will help someone else going through the daunting task of deciding what to feed their furry best friend :) The next section explains an experience I had with a dog going through a health crisis and how diet changes affected his quality of life. The remainder of this post explains what I currently feed all of my dogs, who are in good health.
Five years ago I had gorgeous Alaskan Malamute. He was all white with blue eyes, and actually looked somewhat like our White Swiss Shepherds. His name was Blu. Blu had gone for his annual vet visit in August 2013 and was given a clean bill of health. In fact my vet told me that he was in excellent shape and presented like a dog years younger than he actually was (he was 7 at the time). In October 2013 I noticed that Blu’s coat began to have an odor. Blu had never smelled, not his breath nor his coat. I remedied the problem by bathing him more often. In late November 2013 I noticed that Blu had a sudden decline in energy. His daily walks that he previously lived for, no longer interested him, and he began turning around to go home earlier and earlier while walking. In addition to decreased energy, Blu no longer showed interest in food and he began to lose weight. This was a huge red flag and I immediately took him back to the vet. My vet ran a blood panel and the news was devastating. While most of his levels were those of a dog in excellent health, his blood creatinine levels showed that his kidneys weren't working properly. My vet said he was surprised that Blu even had the strength to stand, and he referred me to an emergency veterinary hospital and suggested I go immediately. The emergency vet did more tests and came to the same conclusion. Blu was in renal failure and it was irreversible. They asked if I wanted to put him down that afternoon. I was in complete shock and told them no! I had to take him home. I immediately began researching dog renal failure, looking for something that I could do for him. That was my first introduction to raw feeding. I found literature that suggested that raw meat causes less strain on the organs of carnivorous and omnivorous animals and therefore it might help animals with organ failure. I was desperate and willing to try anything. While it wasn’t a cure it gave me hope that I could extend his time and quality of life, at least for a little while. I did research on balanced meals, but because of his condition I started with a simple mixture of raw ground bison meat, fish oil, and eggs. He loved it! His desire to eat came back with a vengeance. Within a few days his energy levels increased and the odor he had been emitting became less pungent. I took him back to my vet for a check and the vet said that although he was still in renal failure, his condition had significantly improved, at least to the point where it was obvious that he was not suffering and there was no longer a recommendation to put him down. Blu enjoyed his raw meals and long walks for another three months, and the odor never came back. Then on an afternoon in March 2014 he stopped accepting food. He just wanted to lay with me and rest. I knew it was time and as devastating as it was, I was grateful for the extra months I was given with him. I know that if I hadn’t switched his diet, he would have been gone in November 2013. My vet is by no means a raw diet advocate, but he agreed that it was incredible that I was able to make Blu comfortable and happy for another three months. In a situation with no solution, it offered temporary relief for both of us. I never found out exactly what caused Blu’s sudden illness, but since that experience I have always been aware of the importance of canine nutrition and the impact that diet can have.
We currently have four dogs, and all of them are healthy. If time, money, and space were not factors, I would feed all of them a BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet 100% of the time. Because these are factors, I compromise and feed our dogs 1 raw BARF meal in the morning, green tripe cubes/duck feet/raw meaty bones for a snack, and a high quality life stage appropriate kibble (we rotate Taste of the Wild High Prairie and Wetlands formulas) in the evening. We also give our dogs bone broth as often as possible - whenever I pick some up from the store (Primal brand pet bone broth) or have the time to make it. Bone broth is great for dogs because of the minerals and nutrients extracted from the bones and marrow, and because of the collagen. We let our dogs drink it straight or we freeze bone broth cubes for treats. Luckily none of our dogs have food allergies, so we don't have to make different meals for each dog. I just don’t have the time or facilities to make my own BARF meals, so I currently purchase through Raw Dog Hawaii and 808 Raw Pet Food (Primal freeze dried is convenient and our dogs go nuts for it, but for some reason they won’t go near Primal frozen formulas). These commercial raw pet food companies use high quality, locally sourced protein, and include vegetables and supplements in their formulas to ensure a balanced diet. The main rule I apply when feeding our dogs a mixed raw food and kibble diet is I never mix the two in the same meal. I hope to eventually have the knowledge, time, space, and confidence to make my own meals and at that point I will transition our dogs to 100% raw diet. If your pet has health issues, allergies, or a compromised immune system consult with a vet before changing his/her diet.
The green lamb tripe, duck/chicken feet, and raw meaty bones do wonders for cleaning teeth. I used to brush our dog’s teeth regularly, but since adding these “snacks” to their daily routine brushing is no longer necessary. It is important to monitor your dog while they are eating these goodies and to know your dog’s chewing habits. Gulpers and aggressive chewers may choke or cause damage to their teeth, so make sure to introduce these treats slowly and carefully. Another concern with raw feeding is salmonella and E.coli poisoning. The danger here is mostly for humans, as dogs with normal immune systems do not usually get sick from salmonella or E.coli. Safe handling of raw meat is essential, and if you have young children or immune compromised adults living in your home, raw feeding may not be the best option for you.
We did have an incident where Izzy, our little terrier mix rescue, came down with gastroenteritis. My vet thought it could be related to raw feeding, but Izzy was an adolescent at the time and a garbage disposal. Anytime she found something on the ground she would grab it and quickly swallow it. Not to say that her illness was not related to raw feeding, but it could very well have been caused by something disgusting she picked off the ground, or by stress because we were on a trip when she first became sick. To be safe, we had her stay in the hospital overnight and receive IV antibiotics and fluids and we had her on a bland chicken and rice diet for a few days after she got home. From there we transitioned her back to kibble, which she seems to prefer over raw food. She still eats raw meals occasionally, and she is the first in line for green tripe or raw meaty bones, but like I said a raw diet may not be right for every situation or every dog. If I do switch the rest of our dogs to a 100% BARF diet, I will transition her slowly and monitor her closely.
When we have puppies we will use Orijen Large Breed Puppy and goat’s milk for the weaning process. Many breeders transition puppies straight to raw, but I have concerns as far as the specific nutritional needs of large breed puppies. Also, many of the families purchasing our pups will not be feeding raw, so I don’t want to make things difficult for them by introducing a partially raw diet. We will offer green tripe and duck/chicken feet, as well as bone broth, to weaning puppies because of the health benefits and the physical and mental stimulation they provide. I recommend new owners feed a high quality large breed puppy food like Orijen until the pups are at least 1 year old, unless the new owners are experienced in raw feeding and have done research on calcium/phosphorus ratio recommendations and other nutrient requirements of growing large breed puppies. Most importantly, do not free-feed or over-feed your growing White Swiss Shepherd puppy and do not allow them to get overweight. Rolly-polly puppies are adorable, but keeping them at a healthy weight or even slightly under-weight could be the difference between an active and fit adult dog and one suffering from hip and/or elbow dysplasia.
If you made it this far in this post then you must really love your dogs :) Like I said, I am not an expert on canine nutrition, but I have figured out a system that works for us and works for our dogs and they are gorgeous, healthy, and very happy. When I was doing research, I felt that the more info I had the better, so I wanted to be thorough for anyone who is OCD like me. If you have any information, recommendations, comments, criticisms, suggestions, or questions please let me know! You can e-mail me through our "contact us" link or directly at Hula_moon@outlook.com. You can also use the chat feature or contact me through Facebook, or just leave a comment on the post. Anyway, good luck with finding out what works best for your furry family members!